A cultural communities approach to teacher early literacy practices

Increased awareness of the school readiness gap, particularly for students from ethnic and linguistically diverse backgrounds, has led policy makers, researchers, and practitioners to examine the quality of language and literacy experiences of low income preschoolers. This nested case study used a mixed methods design to describe teacher language and literacy practices in a Head Start program serving predominantly dual language Mexican heritage children. Adopting a sociocultural perspective on literacy development, the research used the construct of cultural communities to examine the role of teacher beliefs, values and goals for children on espoused and enacted early literacy practices. Findings indicated a complex relationship between espoused and enacted practices that could be traced to teachers' participation in various and overlapping cultural communities. Teachers in the study struggled to name research based practices and while effective strategies were observed, they did not occur with sufficient frequency or duration to lead to improved educational outcomes for children at risk. Physical, cultural, and linguistic context mediated teacher practices in complex and multifaceted ways, which emerged as a major finding of the study. In addition, data pointed to a lack of intentional teaching and deep understanding of early childhood development in general and early language and literacy in particular. Important implication for practice emerged, including the need to continue to explore pre-service education, the role of leadership in early childhood education, and the affect of teacher beliefs on practices, including those for dual language learners.